Throughout Black History Month, we learn about those who led and fueled the social movements of the past in the fight for justice and freedom. As our nation stands in this pivotal moment, we want to introduce you to some of the emerging leaders of today who are leading in the movement and community to help ensure that we’re able to build strong Black Futures for generations to come.
Alexander Williams is currently the Lead Criminal Justice Organizer at Forward Justice in Durham, NC. He is formerly incarcerated and has been directly impacted by the criminal legal system. His mission is to organize his community and be a voice for those impacted by the system. He is a core member of All of Us or None, NC which is the state chapter of a national organization dedicated to changing policy and narratives surrounding formerly incarcerated individuals. Alex has also been appointed to the Durham County Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, as well as the advisory board for the Durham Expunction and Relief Program, where he uses his seat to be a voice for directly impacted individuals. Alexander has previously facilitated the Umar Muhammad Clean Slate Clinics, which provides community members with political education and expunctions if eligible. Most recently, in his role with Forward Justice, Alexander was involved in co-supervising the field program that helped to get SB 562 "The Clean Slate Bill" passed.
Ashley Mitchell is a native of Elizabeth City, NC, and a 2017 graduate of Wake Forest University (WFU), where she obtained a Degree in Sociology with a concentration in Criminology and Double Minors in American Ethnic Studies and Music. After graduating from WFU, Ashley attended North Carolina Central University School of Law and graduated in May 2020. She is now a Licensed Attorney in the State of North Carolina.
Ashley has an interest in civil rights, criminal, and juvenile justice law which led her to become the co-founder of iEmpower, Inc. - a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with the mission of encouraging education, civic engagement, leadership, and service amongst minority/low-income youth and their families.
In her role with Forward Justice, Ashley works closely with the legal team to support our research, community outreach, and advocacy efforts. During the 2020 election season, Ashley was instrumental in leading work with coalition partners to protect and expand voting rights across 10 key states. She monitored and tracked voter suppression efforts ahead of the election to identify possible suppression measures; worked with the NC NAACP to disseminate public education materials and Personal Protection Equipment to all 100 of its local branches; and presented voting rights and training curriculums to poll monitors in both NC and Mississippi prior to Early Voting and Election Day.
A native of Charlotte, NC, Omar Onque is the newest addition to the Forward Justice organizing team. Formerly the Mecklenburg County Chapter Organizer for the North Carolina Second Chance Alliance, Omar is dedicated to helping residents in his community gain access to the reentry resources and opportunities they need to begin the next chapter in their lives after coming into contact with the criminal legal system. Directly impacted by system himself, criminal justice reform and organizing are very personal and dear to his heart. As a part of his work with both the Clean Slate and Unlock Our Vote campaigns, Omar has trained over 70 new volunteers to help with community engagement efforts, and during the 2020 Election period, lead Voter registration events in Mecklenburg County where he worked with directly impacted residents to educate them about their newly expanded voting rights under the CSI V. Moore litigation and got them registered to vote.
Always identifying ways to advocate for his community, Omar has been instrumental in the development of our new website, NC Copwatch- a tool designed to serve as a resource for community members, organizers, and advocates across the state seeking transparency and accountability in our statewide policing practices. Omar has been working closely with Forward Justice staff and other community organizers to ensure we have an actionable plan in place for community members to use the site as an advocacy tool when seeking policy changes. Omar has also served as an NC Second Chance Alliance volunteer coordinator and is a member of the North Carolina Fines and Fees Coalition where he works on a subcommittee to address the disproportionate impact criminal justice debt has on communities of color and those in poverty.
Born under the Aquarius sun sign, Mya Hunter is 30 years old, fourth-generation Durhamite, a daughter, sister, friend, performance artist, and documentarian. She has a deep sense of love and duty to her Hometown. As the co-founder of Youth Noise Network (YNN) a youth radio project originally run through the Center for Documentary Studies, Mya understands the need to amplify the, often stifled, voices of today’s youth. First introduced to SpiritHouse through a sixth-grade after-school program, Mya reconnected and joined the SpiritHouse family in 2008, when she was a high school junior. After thirteen years with SpiritHouse, Mya is still getting used to her position as Co-Director. From program participant to youth organizer, and later a program director, her moving into SpiritHouse’s intergenerational Co-directorship has been a natural fit. Mya brings a clear vision and direction of SpiritHouse’s work as the organization has just celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019. Her current responsibilities include curriculum development, workshop facilitation, fundraising, and keeping the more “seasoned” organizational members up to date and in line. Mya has had several professional development opportunities including Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (BOLD) Amandla Organizer Training in 2012 and 2014, and the 2018 Peer to Peer Exchange fellowship through the Open Society Foundation.